Updated for 2015: Dana’s Super-Gargantuan Guide to Science Books Suitable for Gift-Giving

Ohai! It’s another midwinter holiday gift giving season, and you’ve probably got a reader or dozen on your list. Did they give you some titles? Fantastic! Gift giving shall be easy, and if you purchase through this link, you can get your gifties and support ye olde blog, too. No list? No problem! I’ve got you covered with a super-awesome, super-gargantuan guide to many books suitable for secular gifting.

Through the next couple of weeks, I’ll be updating our lists with additional titles. Here’s a wonderland of science books not previously listed in our Super-Gargantuan Guides!

Image shows Misha lying on a pile of geology books. Caption says, "I'm on yur geology goox, demonstratin superpuzishun."
Photo by moi, meme created by Lockwood DeWitt.


Table of Contents

Earth Sciences

Biology, Paleontology and Evolution

Neurology, Physiology and Medicine

Astronomy, Physics, and Chemistry

Earth Sciences

Flat Earth: The History of an Infamous Idea by Christine Garwood

So much flat earth goodness in this book, my darlings! You must get this for anyone on your list who has ever adored Discworld, laughed at flat earthers, or wondered how we figured out the world is round. Christine Garwood tells tales of many flat earth believers, including the one who tried to bet against Alfred Russell Wallace his own self. I adored this book, it is thoroughly engaging and will help you understand how so many people could ignore or deny plain, obvious facts. My review here.

Soundings: The Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor by Hali Felt

Marie Tharp mapped a region of our globe more unfathomable than the solar system, but most of us probably haven’t read her story in our history books. Hali Felt brings her to vivid life in a book that is part biography, part cartography, and part history. Scientific and human relationships are explored along with the ocean floor, and we’re along for the ridge as the Midocean Ridges are discovered and revealed. I can personally vouch for this one, having read it my own self (alas, I haven’t reviewed it yet. Awesome review here.)

In the Path of Destruction: Eyewitness Chronicles of Mount St. Helens by Richard Waitt

When Mount St. Helens erupted cataclysmically on May 18th, 1980, a lot of people were caught in the blast zone. Some witnessed the eruption from within the devastated area. Some were in the air, some on other Cascades peaks. Some didn’t survive, but left photos and notes behind. Everyone had a unique story to tell. USGS geologist Richard Waitt collects their stories in a volume that will chill, thrill, and keep you up at night. Anyone who’s at all interested in volcanic eruptions needs this book. My liveblogging of the reading experience can be found here.


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Biology, Paleontology and Evolution

The Fossil Hunter by Shelley Emling

At last, a book about Mary Anning for adults! Anning made many important fossil discoveries in the early days of paleontology, despite growing up poor and female in a world dominated by the upper classes and men. Shelley Emling explores her life, and investigates the greater importance of her work beyond, “Hey, she found some neat bones!” The unbeliever on your list will especially enjoy how those discoveries stymied folks who believed in the Bible, which somehow fails to mention all these extinct species all over the place. Excellent review here.

My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science, and Our Favorite Dinosaurs by Brian Switek 

Brian Switek is a fabulous writer with a huge love of dinosaurs, and in this book, he takes us adventuring through new discoveries as he also explores his love affair with the gigantic extinct beasties. Speaking of love affairs: he even gives us some insight into saurian sex lives. Suitable for anyone who adores dinosaurs, and especially for those who want up-to-date information in a beautifully entertaining book. Fun review here.

Pterosaurs: Natural History, Evolution, Anatomy by Mark P. Witton

Do you have someone in your life who wants to know anything and everything about pterosaurs? This is the absolute perfect book. Lavishly detailed and illustrated, including current knowledge, theories, and well-informed speculation, it will satisfy some curiosity whilst allowing the reader to happily imagine what we may discover about these remarkable creatures in the future. Detailed review here.

The Unfeathered Bird by Katrina van Grouw

This book is for bird lovers. Want to know what makes our avian friends tick? Katrina van Grouw goes under the feathers to explore their anatomy, evolution, and behavior. Rich, detailed illustrations explore many aspects of each species, from skeleton to muscle, as they go about their bird bidness. Review and behind the scenes stories here.

Evolving out of Eden: Christian Responses to Evolution by Robert M. Price and Edwin Suominen

Nooo don’t run away! This isn’t for creationist Christians! This is a book I became aware of when one of the authors popped into a Facebook thread and posted a couple of pages on monkey morality. I read. I was instantly hooked. In two pages. The writing was exquisite and the science sound. Edwin Suominen set out to reconcile evolution with Christianity and lost his faith in the process. The evidence he found was undeniable: evolution is real. Both authors have a background in Christian faith, and they are able to sympathize with those struggling due to the loss of it, but never flinch away from the scientific evidence. And, like I said: really engaging writing. This one’s great for the unbelievers, pagans, heathens, theistic evolutionists, science lovers, secularists, and even evangelicals on your list. Edwin Suominen talks about the book here.

A Fish Caught in Time: The Search for the Coelacanth by Samantha Weinberg

The coelacanth is one of my favorite fish and fish stories. So Evelyn sent me this book, and it is all about the discovery of the awesomeness that is coelacanth! Alas, I haven’t read it yet, but it looks to be fabulous, following many stories of the various people who studied fossilized ones, found and analyzed the living ones, and the various rivalries and arguments over them. People who love these funky fish that were once lost in time should adore this book. Review here.


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Neurology, Physiology and Medicine

Brain Storm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences by Rebecca M. Jordan-Young

We’ve been hearing about the mysterious differences between the male and female brain for half of forever now, but does the science really support that notion? Rebecca Jordan-Young reviews the available studies, and finds that while the hormones the fetus is exposed to do have an effect on the development of the sex organs, there’s no science supporting dramatic differences in mental functioning. This is an important book to have for those arguments with evolutionary psychologists and others who believe we’re innately different. There’s an excellent review of the book here.

Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality by Patricia S. Churchland

So how can atheists be moral? Patricia Churchland’s book isn’t exactly about that, but you can get there from here. She explores the science behind morality, exploring how neurology and psychology evolved and function in human and other brains, causing what we perceive to be moral behaviors. She also delves into philosophy, thus not falling into is-ought traps. She’s also careful to account for the fact that culture, as well as our basic wiring, affects our moral understanding. See this review for more.

The Fear Babe: Shattering Vani Hari’s Glass House by Marc Draco, Mark Alsip, and Kavin Senapathy

If someone you love is totally suckered by Vani Hari (aka Food Babe), you can get them this book. If you know someone who loves to see medical misinformation and pseudoscience debunked, they will scream with delight when you hand it to them. And it’s not just about Food Babe, although her nonsense is a large part of what the authors are countering. They tackle a whole world of woo, from anti-vax bullshit to anti-GMO nonsense and beyond. I’m in the middle of it right now and thoroughly enjoying it. Kavin Senapathy talks about it here.

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Astronomy, Physics, and Chemistry

A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos by Dava Sobel

So, this is the woman who made longitude lines on a map fascinating (see above: Longitude in Earth Sciences), so you can only imagine what she does with something as momentous as the Copernican Revolution. Despite scant original source material, she manages to give us a rich understanding of Copernicus’s remarkable discovery and the world it rocked. Emily Lakdawalla reviews it here. And, if you want to give a double-book present, consider adding The Planets as a companion volume.

The Hundred Greatest Stars by James B. Kaler

For anyone who loves stars, astronomy, or anything about the cosmos, really. James Kaler introduces us to a hundred of the most important stars in our heavens. Each star gets its own two-page spread and loving attention. Review here.

Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World by Mark Miodownik

Do you or someone you know like stuff? Do you want to know more stuff about stuff? Mark Miodownik knows about all the stuff, and shares his knowledge with you in this fascinating tome. This is a book all about materials science, which is a lot more interesting than some of us might believe. I mean, there’s even an inner life of stuff. Also, a story about stabbings and staples. And lots of other stuff. Very excellent and engaging review here.


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Get the whole Super-Gargantuan Science Book guide here.

Updated for 2015: Dana’s Super-Gargantuan Guide to Science Books Suitable for Gift-Giving

2 thoughts on “Updated for 2015: Dana’s Super-Gargantuan Guide to Science Books Suitable for Gift-Giving

  1. 1

    So – I am almost entirely ignorant of geology – whether identifying rock, landscape (well, beyond ‘mountain’, ‘cliff’, etc.), or knowing anything more than was told to me back in elementary school (some embarassingly large number of years ago).

    What book(s) would you recommend to give a decent overview for the interested amateur (someone who is interested in maybe a little more discernment than between ‘pretty rocks’ and ‘all other rocks’). Especially if it includes some kind of thumbnail history of the subject.

  2. rq

    I’ve been keeping my eye on In the Path of Destruction and OMG the pterosaurs book, I saw pictures of it, and I don’t know why, but it makes me feel all thrilled inside. In fact, any beautifully illustrated, more-or-les scientifically accurate dinosaur book does that for me (and I just have a soft spot for anything brontosaurus-related). One day soon I will have to get the Anning book just on principle. And be wowed.
    I’ll look into Dava Sobel even more, she seems to have quite a number of science books for the masses out there – and I’ve never even heard of her!
    The Hundred Greatest Stars looks like a good one, too.

    [random] Oh! And speaking of books, I recently bought a rather nicely-illustrated book on the planets for the kids (part of a series but it came out last year so it doesn’t have any of the fascinating Pluto stuff, but everything else is as up-to-date as can be), and it has a timeline of discoveries about Earth and whatnot… and it lists a man as the discoverer of the earth’s solid core! And I said to the book, You are wrong, because Inge Lehmann, but I have been educated: Oldham did indeed discover the Earth’s core, but Lehmann discovered the Earth’s inner core. Which isn’t mentioned in the timeline at all. :( I may pencil it in at some point. Anyway. [/random]

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